January 22, 2018

Food Safety Bloopers Volume 4

The current issue of Ladies Home Journal is the focus of this week’s Food Safety Bloopers. One of their articles suggests that for gift giving, we donate to a charity in someone’s name, then give that person a homemade gift. That is a wonderful idea. But there’s a problem with one of the gifts described.

The magazine gives directions for making rosemary-flavored oil, by putting rosemary sprigs in oil in a pretty bottle. This is an extremely dangerous practice, as herbs can carry Clostridium botulinum sporesĀ from the soil in which they are grown. Oil is the perfect anaerobic environment for the spores to grow and produce botulism poison. A tiny amount of that poison, which is odorless and tasteless, can paralyze and kill.

The Colorado State University Extension states that for safety reasons, these oils should be refrigerated (which the directions do not state) and used within three days. Because you have no way of knowing whether the product will be handled properly, it is irresponsible to give as a gift. The risk, although small, is too great.

Commercially prepared herb-in-oil and garlic-in-oil mixtures are perfectly safe to eat because they contain preservatives or have been treated to kill bacterial spores. Choose commercially prepared infused oils instead of making them yourself.

If you want to give a homemade gift using herbs, make herb-infused vinegars instead. The acid content of vinegar discourages the growth of botulism spores and other bacteria, although some vinegars can support the growth of E. coli bacteria. For safety, don’t overpack the bottle, and heat the vinegar to just below boiling before pouring over the herbs. Follow the directions at the CSU site.

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